Wednesday, 10 September 2014


“Islam teaches tolerance, not hatred; universal brotherhood, not enmity; peace, and not violence.” - Pervez Musharraf

One of the most insidious and feared diseases is cancer. With good reason, as many cancers that afflict us humans are diseases that develop deep in our body and we are not aware of them until it is too late. A cluster of our very own cells that has mutated, becomes autonomous and grows at the expense of the other, normal cells in the body. The cancer expands, destroys more and more of our tissues and gradually takes over more and more of our vital organs until the whole body is involved and we die as a result of the cancer spreading through our body.

On the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, I think of the events on this day and I am reminded of cancer, as it is an analogy for what is happening in many countries around the world presently. Terrorism has become a world-wide phenomenon and in many, if not most, cases the people involved have either infiltrated into or live within the society they terrorise. The idea of the “home-grown” terrorist is something that many people find unbelievable or at least particularly abhorrent. To think that one of your own, a relative, your next door neighbour maybe, a friend or friend of a friend is capable of being a terrorist is, in the very least, disquieting.

Surely, we are all aware of international terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaeda, that have taken responsibility for many terrorist acts around the world. We also know that adherents and operatives of these organisations are spread all over the world, in many cases living amongst us. The threat of terrorist acts hangs over our head like a Damoclean sword, and the “war on terror” initiated by the Bush administration on the wake of the September 11th attacks is much publicised but has had precious little real effect on the operations of most large terrorist organisations.

The war in Iraq (a war to assure the oil-thirsty American economy of its crude oil supplies), was ostensibly part of the war on terror. You believe this publicised benevolent reason if you are naïve enough to believe that the Trojan War was waged for the sake of Helen of Troy, rather than the real economic and expansionist reasons that the warring Greek states had. The Middle East is forever going to be a region of conflict, unless another cheap, easily purveyed alternative to oil is found so as to provide an energy-consuming world its ever-increasing energy needs.

A book that I read and which is precisely concerned with this “enemy-from-within” theme is John Updike’s “Terrorist” (2006), the author’s 22nd novel. John Updike was born in 1932, in Pennsylvania, USA. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of ‘The New Yorker’. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.

Although “Terrorist” is not Updike’s best novel, it attempts to handle an important theme The novel centres around eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy, the son of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father, who disappeared when Ahmad was three. At the age of eleven years, Ahmad turned to Islam and became a devout Muslim under the guidance of his local mosque’s imam. The imam becomes his father surrogate and the words of the Holy Qur’an, become his vision of perfection in what he sees is an all-too imperfect world around him.

Teenage rebellion coupled with internal conflicts make Ahmad see his faith threatened. The turmoil is compounded by the materialistic, hedonistic society he lives in, and the factory town of New Prospect, in northern New Jersey, is a suitable backdrop for the external struggle that awaits him. Jack Levy, his guidance counsellor at his high school, who provides depressing and world-weary advice and Joryleen, Ahmad’s seductive black classmate, both act as catalysts for Ahmad’s choosing to follow the “Straight Path” as described by his religion. Things reach a crisis when Ahmad begins to work in a furniture store owned by a family of recent Lebanese, migrants. Ahmad becomes aware of the web of a plot that threatens to trap him.

Besides the dominant theme of religion and social/moral codes imposed on an individual by it, another important theme of the novel is history and how an individual sees himself situated within that pageant. Any single person, even the most insignificant, Updike reminds us can become historically significant through a single act. That act can save or destroy a whole population and can glorify or damn that individual in the future. What does it take for each of us to master our own fate, make the “right” decision within the context of family, society, religion, mores, conscience is something that Ahmad struggles with and gives the reader plenty of food for thought.

On this 13th anniversary of 9/11, the violent terrorist act that claimed the lives of 3000 or so innocent victims still haunts the memory of all people around the world who believe that non-violent means for achieving a change for the better is the only means that befits a rational, humane and thinking human being. September Eleven still horrifies and disturbs all human beings who have a pure heart. The world has changed since that attack and we, the survivors have a duty to do our best in order to ensure that such acts become not only impossible in the future, but are declared to be reprehensible and heinous, all over the world by all leaders.

The way that we bring up our children, the way that we worship our God, the way that we live our life, the way that we administer justice, the way that we ensure that each person on this earth has dignity, freedom and a comfortable life where basic needs are met, should all contribute to the war against terror. This is how we ensure that such attacks do not recur. One does not go to war to stop terrorism - one does not fight a terrorist act with another terrorist act.

All of this is becoming more germane as we have heard President Obama announcing a ramp-up of allied military efforts to target Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq and Syria. However, as Obama knows all too well, further escalation of military intervention could backfire, potentially playing into the hands of IS and its sophisticated recruitment strategy to attract radicalised Muslims from around the world. Recent history shows that military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq was complicated, unsuccessful and unresolved. The allied military intervention radicalised and mobilised not only the communities the West was trying to protect (or liberate), but also others in faraway countries who viewed Western interference in holy lands as another sign of Muslim oppression.

Increasing military action overseas will also have a knock-on effect at home. Obama’s announcement of increasing military action is likely to aggravate or frustrate IS supporters who haven’t been permitted to travel to the conflict zones. They may, instead, wish to demonstrate their support by potentially carrying out attacks at home.

It is important to remember what the Holy Book of Islam says in Chapter 2, verse 190: “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.” The essence of the verse is to fight back if you are attacked by your persecutors, but don’t fight back indiscriminately. Follow the rules of engagement. Mainstream Muslim clerics agree that these “rules of engagement” are explicit: Women, children, and innocent civilians are off limits. A terrorist, whatever their religion does not respect these rules of engagement…


  1. We live in terrible times... One the one hand the complete consumerism, loose morals, irreligiosity, greed and rampant capitalism of the Western nations and on the other hand the fanaticism of some extremists (no matter what their religion) that causes problems that threaten the world of the innocent. Thank you for the book review, I shall try to get it to read.

  2. I think it's very hard to find a major religion that tells its followers to do evil. It is evil people who use religion as a means to do their evil deeds for their personal gain. RIP innocents who die as a result of terrorism.